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Teaching the value of habitual excellence

Most mornings I go to the gym at 5am. It is really, really early. I am always surprised by how many people are there at that time – joining me in the pain of working out before dawn.

What most impresses me are parents that bring their teens to the gym at that time. Dragging them out of bed at that hour can’t be easy – or perhaps more challenging would be getting them in to bed at a reasonable time the night before – but somehow they do it. Every morning.

I was talking to a friend there, now in her 30’s and asked her how long she had been coming along to the gym at that time. She told me she had come every weekday since she was 15, when her parents used to get her out of bed and drag her along. She hated it at first. In fact, more than at first. Most of the high school years she resented it. But it was after school that she began to appreciate it. Not because it became any easier, but simply because she had turned it in to a habit that followed her in to her adult life.

I often see people complain or struggle with going to the gym, but I personally don’t find this at all. For me it is just a habit, something I do everyday. I don’t think about it. It is like drinking water or breathing air.

The teenage years are a crucial time for teens as they build habits that will last with them the rest of their lives. Sometimes they don’t even realise they are creating these habits, they just become a part of who they are. There are no other times in a person’s life that will impact their identity as much as these years.

Intentionally creating a habit of excellence is not easy. It will be tiring and draining and probably cause conflict, but it will be so worth it.

This isn’t just about going to the gym. It is about everything that impacts a teens life. Their studies, their friends, their goals. By building good habits now they won’t become challenging later on – they will just become part of who they are.

I challenge you to talk with your teen and identify one good habit they want to build – reading a book every night, going for a walk every morning, studying every afternoon – and work with them to see it happen. It will be something they thank you for later!

Should Selective Schools be means tested?

Recently the selective school entrance test has come under fire for allowing it to be ‘gamed’ through tutoring, therefore disadvantaging students from lower socioeconomic households who are unable to afford tutors.

The HSC has the same issue, but this is probably more prevalent because of the financial benefits of selective schools. I have known many families that have had a selective school as their first priority, with elite private schools as their back up option; so over 6 years of schooling it would be a difference of almost a hundred thousand dollars just in school fees.

The proposal by the state government is to change the format of the selective exam so that it tests generic skills rather than a test that can be learnt and rehearsed. The main issue is that any exam can be prepared for – they can’t stop students from preparing no matter how hard they try. Unfortunately the ability to prepare for an exam does favour wealthier families who can afford better support.

The other suggestion is to means test students based on household income. However this would probably work in reverse and discriminate against wealthy families, which I don’t see as any better. This will increase the divide – and my assumption is it will increase the number of students in the lower half working with tutors because they know they have a greater chance of finding success.

My suggestion would be to make the entrance exam a viva-voce of sorts; an interview where students are given random questions and need to communicate these responses back to the markers verbally. I would also include an section on persuasive writing, and rather than give them a booklet of 40 general ability questions, I would give them one unique challenging question that tests their reasoning ability and logic.

Of course, this is still not perfect. It neglects mathematical ability which is hugely important, and will favour students who are naturally outgoing and can communicate better over those who are introverted, but I think the ability to defend ideas and think critically is a crucial skill. This also becomes a bit more of a logistical challenge – with up to 15,000 students applying for entry every year, giving them the time and space to be interviewed fairly will be very challenging.

My guess is that in lieu of an ideal solution, nothing will change. The exam will remain as is – 3 x 40 minute exams plus a 20 minute writing section. The competition is fierce, but it is an exam that students can master with the right preparation. If your child is considering a selective school and you are fortunate to be in a position to help them achieve this through the support of a tutor, please get in touch today – selective school places are filling up fast.

The issues facing the Australian education system

If you google “Education ranking Australia” you will be met with some uncomfortable results.

I saw a report last week from a UN agency that out of 41 high income countries, Australia ranks 39 for quality education. That means that pretty much any developed country you can name will be above us (except for Turkey and Romania). Finland was number 1, South Korea and Japan made the top ten, while our Kiwi neighbours were 15.

This is a very troubling statistic, and one that doesn’t seem to grab the headlines like it should. The article would go on to say that only around 70% of 15 year old students are achieving baseline standards in three core areas; reading, writing and maths.

That isn’t the only article Google will give you. Another one published by the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2016 shows that we rank 28 out of 49 in maths; falling 10 places in recent years. While we have sat in the middle of the pack for decades, other countries have continued to improve while we have remained stagnant, leaving us behind.

These are big issues. It’s not that I think top marks in school are the make or break differential, but that the economic landscape of the future is changing at an incredibly fast rate. I am concerned that the rate of change in our education system will not match the rate of change of the rest of the world, and therefore my children will get left behind – unable to compete for jobs in a global environment.

If the core function of school is to prepare children for life beyond school, we need to do better.

This is not meant to be a pointless rant. I want to actually offer some ideas on what can be done to make things better. And while the speed of change in the education system seems to be incredibly slow, I feel these are changes we can put in to place now to ensure that down the line things improve.

1. Give principals the power to make decisions.

This is something that is gradually improving, but unfortunately most school decisions are tied up in bureaucracy that is inefficient and unsupportive. This is particularly true in making staffing choices. Very often the Department of Education has the final say on who gets the job – rather than the principal who knows what is best for their school. Give the principal full control on hiring, firing and performance, and just like a CEO of an organisation, let them take responsibility; whether it be a triumph or failure.

2. Make foreign languages compulsory through to year 12.

This is one I am particularly passionate about, and wish it was something I could have benefited from when I was at school. We don’t need every language in the world – 4 or 5 would be enough, focussing on the main languages around us plus a few European languages. It could even be done on a school share system like many multi-campus schools do in other ways, so that each school could major in one of them, and students can go between as required. Again, in this interconnected world we live in, it is foolish for us to just assume that English will be the main language spoken in 20 years time.

3. Increase the amount of time spent in school

This might be unpopular with the laid-back Australian culture we know so well, but it seems to me a simple equation: our students are not learning enough in school, so therefore we need to teach them more than we currently are. 12 weeks of school holidays each year is far too much, and we could extend the schooling hours of High School students to 9-5, matching business hours. In Japan, South Korea and Singapore, many students attend school on Saturdays and undergo additional tuition until late in the evening. Finland, number one on the UN list, attributes much of their success to their incredibly high rate of early childhood learning – an incredible 99.8% of children go to some form of organised early learning.

Imagine this; we reduce the Christmas holidays by just 2 weeks each year. By the time the student is in year 12, they would have done an extra 26 weeks of schooling – however we don’t just use it to squeeze more in. We use that 26 weeks at the end of year 12 to get them ready for life – try different skills and learn how to think for themselves. What a difference that would make in preparing them for life beyond school!

These are just 3 ideas. I understand that action always takes a long time, and there are budgets and politics involved, but I fear these results are just going to keep coming and this conversation will never go further than words and empty discussions.

For the sake of my daughters who are yet to start school, I hope something changes!

Does my child need a tutor?

This is a question that we get from parents all the time. They browse what we have to offer and begin a conversation unsure if their child really needs a tutor.

Our overwhelming answer is yes.

Here are 5 reasons your child needs a tutor:

1. A tutor is so much more than just someone to help with their homework. Your child’s tutor will be a mentor, role model and friend that will help them see what they are truly capable of achieving. When I was in mid-High School and my parents got me a tutor, the biggest help was not the detailed maths solutions but the fact that this person believed in me and cared for me. That let me see what I could actually do if I put my mind to it. What we do is so much more than just marks.

2. For your own sanity. One of the main reasons that parents turn to us to help their child is to reduce the conflict in the home. Trying to get your kids to do their homework is challenging and a constant grind on the relationship. It’s not just homework, but trying to get them to apply themselves and understand the importance of school – this coming from a parent goes in one ear and out the other. But from a tutor – someone young, interesting and that actually cares for them – those words will carry significant weight.

3. The schooling system does not cater for your child’s unique learning style. Overpacked classrooms have become standard these days, making it very difficult for your teacher to understand the unique learning styles of your child. This is no criticism of teachers – they do an incredible job – but it means students can so easily slip through the gaps. Interestingly enough I see this more in advanced students than those who struggle. If student fall behind they have remedial programs to help them – but advanced students are rarely given a chance to perform at their full potential. Our tutors customise every lesson around the unique level and learning style of your child, ensuring their unique learning styles are targeted.

4. The HSC is a competition, and if they don’t have a tutor they are disadvantaged. Like it or not, the HSC has changed. The ATAR, the number that gets them into University, is now a ranking and not a raw mark. It means that they are not just competing against students in their class, but against students at schools across the state: including schools that have huge budgets and endless resources to help their students come out on top. Not having a tutor is like entering a marathon where everyone else gets someone to sub with, but you are all on your own. You’ll get tired trying to do it on your won, while they can depend on someone else when they need them. A tutor has become a necessity in the HSC.

5. Because interpersonal skills are the currency of the future. I read an article this week that Sydney city has embedded traffic lights in to the ground to warn those who are staring at their phones that the light is red. I laugh at this, but I am just as guilty of doing it! Every year we move further and further from the real world and in to this tiny tech bubble where we can so easily shut out the people around us. Now imagine what life is going to be like in 5/10/15 years when your child gets our of school and in to the real world! As information becomes readily available, I believe qualifications will not be valued like they are now, and the only differentiator will be the ability to relate to people. It is the only thing that can’t be replaced by a machine! By pairing your child with a tutor once a week now, they will be learning incredible interpersonal skills that will help them later in life.

Does your child need a tutor? Absolutely yes. I have never met a student that wouldn’t benefit from the support of a private tutor.

Book your first free session with Alchemy Tuition today and set your child up for success.

How much does your dream cost?

This is one for the students.

I want you to imagine for a moment that you’ve made it. You’ve achieved the dream.

What does it feel like?

What does it feel like as you stand on the top podium at the olympics, the crowd roaring and shouting your name?

Or what does it feel like as you stand back stage, microphone in hand, getting ready to sing your songs to a packed stadium of 50,000 fans?

Or maybe you’re not a musician, but you are about to walk out in front of that crowd and deliver your first speech as Prime Minister?

What does it feel like to pass the bar exam as a lawyer, knowing you are now going to be able to make a difference in the world by fighting for human rights around the world?

Or what does it feel like opening a letter in the mail that tells you you’ve been accepted to the University course of your dreams?

I ask these questions because there is one thing that connects all these dreams together: they all come with a price tag.

Any dream you have in life is going to cost something. It is going to cost time, money, focus, commitment, sacrifice…

The real question is how much does your dream cost – and how much are you willing to pay to achieve it?